[disclosure: a bit of shameless self promotion below]
Last month the BBC contacted me about a feature they were preparing for their Fast Track show. They invited me over to give my opinion on a trend where people are using social media in travel. The reason they invited me was a blog post I had written called ‘5 dangers of social media’.
I ended up in a nice interview with Fleur Britten, author of several books, including her latest one about couch surfing. She has taken an amazing journey, starting in Moscow all the way to Kazakhstan and China using social media to find her next couch to sleep on.
You can see the interview here.
Although the interview turned out pretty good I found it pretty difficult to get right. Writing provides me comfortable time to think and shape my words in a non-native language. With a TV camera, and realizing some 80 million people might see the item, this is much harder. I have to be concise and to the point. I wanted to say a lot more than ended up in the interview, but that is ok.
Social Media has become a nearly useless term. A container for too many different meanings. In this particular case, the question at hand is, should we share everything we do online, and are we aware of possible consequences. Note that every ‘social’ web service (and which one isn’t) encourages public sharing. And now that everyone is doing it, it seems harmless to join.
I do not object at all to public sharing. I’m part of this myself with accounts on several ‘social’ services like Twitter. At the same time I feel a user should fully understand the possible consequences of this. You may get hooked initially on a cool social, or (now hip) localization based service. Be aware that public means public. It is there to stay forever and more importantly it is always traceable to your identity. Read this post by Andrew Hyde called ‘Committing location based service suicide’ about his reasons to stop using Foursquare, Brightkite and Gowalla.
Web 2.0 and ‘social media’ developments have taken a deep stab at our ability to be in control of our own privacy. This never-ending call to share publicly is slowly taken over a fundamental human right of being in control yourself. I’ve read and written a lot about this in the past few years. I am by no means an expert on the matter (read Bruce Schneier if you are looking for a real expert), but have always felt that the advertisement business model on the web is one of the root causes for this trend. It’s a catch 22, a trap you can’t get out of. Powerful CEO’s like Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt are pushing user to share even more and accept that privacy is a thing of the past.
The justification that this tracking is already taking place in the physical world is hardly comparable. Yes, credit card companies, your local supermarket, and the government track you in the physical world. Yet none of these organizations are even remotely capable of combining information from different sources on a scale that is possible on the web. Everything you do online is stored, indexed and retrievable. And the risks related to that are very realistic.
Does that mean you shouldn’t take part? Of course not. But I would urge you to think about it, and to fully understand the consequences.
Do not get lured naïvely into the trap of Mark Zuckerberg or Eric Schmidt. Privacy is not dead, it is a human right. Services may not offer you full control over your privacy. People may share more and more. All of this doesn’t mean you should hand over your right to decide so easily. You should be in control, and the first thing you need to do is take that control and decide for yourself where you draw the line. We all need to protect our right of self-control, and each of us individually needs to live up to that responsibility and think before we act. Draw your own line, as no one else will do it for you.
And yes it is true, TV makes you look fat ;-)